By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: Ohio's incoming Republican governor is sticking with plans to scrap high-speed rail, a decision the federal government said will cost the state millions of dollars.
John Kasich, who succeeds Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in January, asked Strickland on Monday to immediately cancel all passenger rail contracts to save taxpayer money.
Kasich sent letters to both Strickland and President Barack Obama telling them he doesn't plan to support developing a passenger line connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
''As you are aware, I am opposed to this program and will terminate it upon taking office,'' Kasich wrote Strickland. ''Given that, I am sure that you will agree that it would simply be wasteful to spend any additional money on this program. At a time when Ohio is facing an approximately $8 billion budget shortfall, every step should be taken to eliminate waste and prevent unnecessary spending.''
Kasich asked Obama for the ability to use the state's $400 million rail allocation for other things. He said if that's not possible, the federal government should keep the money to help reduce the federal deficit.
Meanwhile, Kasich's Republican counterpart in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, also stressed that he remains opposed to the $810 million high-speed rail project in his state. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, said Monday he would not fight his Republican successor's efforts to scrap the project.
Walker said the money would be better spent repairing roads and bridges.
But in a letter to Walker sent Monday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said the money is earmarked for high-speed rail and can't be used for roads, highways or other projects. LaHood said the administration differs with the two incoming GOP governors who see rail spending as wasted money — but said the decision is ultimately theirs.
''Consequently, unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin's project so that we do not waste taxpayers' money,'' LaHood wrote.
Strickland's office said research on the Ohio project has many uses and the governor has no plans to stop the work before leaving office. Spokeswoman Kelly Schlissberg said the contract is already executed and the study and planning work is well under way.
''Even for those who would send these resources and 16,000 Ohio jobs to New York or some other state, there is nothing to fear from obtaining the good information that this study will provide to policymakers in the near term as well as the long term,'' she said. ''So even if the governor-elect chooses not to support rail when he takes office, future governors or legislators with a vision for a modern Ohio will have better information as a result of this work.''
Schlissberg said Kasich has expressed support in interviews for freight rail improvements that would be moved along by the high-speed rail research.
''We believe the more the incoming administration learns about this plan to establish high-speed passenger rail in Ohio, the more they will begin to see that, as a side benefit of these investments, Ohio's freight rail system will benefit significantly from track and other improvements,'' Schlissberg said.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo in New York has already asked the U.S. Department of Transportation for the opportunity to use Ohio's and Wisconsin's rail money if the two states' programs are scrapped.